'I dream of an India that is more than hope'
My dreams began young. But I always planned on things one step at a time. I think, later, that made all the difference, between just imagining and realising that that imagination needed a focus.
I began playing cricket because everyone around was into cricket. They did play other sports in our neighbourhood, badminton and hockey, volleyball; football was really popular when Mumbai’s monsoon was on, we would dance in the rain as we played the beautiful game, but yet, somehow, it never was quite cricket. Cricket was special.
I think things began to change for me when I began understanding that there was more to cricket than picking up a bat and trying to take a wild swipe at everything that came its way. That was also when I began to dream.
I was around 9 or 10 and, watching my brother and some older guys in the building play, I wanted to be like them, to play like them, with them. My imagination at that stage only took me to a place where I was intensely competitive, enough to be among the top batsmen in my group. If you did well, were lucky, you would get a prized invitation to play with the older boys and if that happened, your success and reputation in the peer group was assured.
Having said that, I think every game is special and India’s recent winning season across sports has been wonderful to watch and so very encouraging. I have watched, with pride and joy, as the hockey team has started to pick itself up; I have watched our footballers play with rejuvenated enthusiasm and dreams in their eyes; and have watched excitedly as people like world billiards champion Pankaj Advani, golfer Jeev Milkha Singh and tennis star Sania Mirza have made us proud. Most of all, I have followed, every inch a proud Indian, the ascent of Viswanathan Anand to the chess world championship crown over the weekend.
In sport, we have several ups and downs, but being a sportsman of course, one doesn't like to lose. In fact, I think the only time I have intentionally allowed myself to relax in competition is against my children, because my wife tells me that you have to sometimes let your kids win.
At the same time, I still don't allow them to win every time. They have a long way to go and I think it's important to reinforce the message, as subtly as possible to youngsters that you have to earn your stripes in life; that, the world might lie ahead but you need to work towards conquering that world.
This is as much in life, as in sport, and, just to expand on this beyond the world I inhabit, I have put together my seven-point agenda, my dream for my India.
I dream of an India where there is enough food for everyone, where nobody goes to sleep hungry. There are places in Mumbai where they regularly feed those who cannot otherwise afford food, and I think they do a very precious, vital job.
Accessibility to clean drinking water
I'm not talking just of water crises in metros but of those people who have to walk miles to get drinking water in remote areas in the great Indian interior. We need to find a way to make sure that if someone is thirsty, water is within easy reach.
The right to shelter
One of the things that strike you about the cities is the miles upon miles of suffering homeless, wrapped in ragged newspapers, on the streets of our megapolises. My future India will see a roof over every Indian's head; be an India that will have a home for everyone.
My India would see an end to the discrimination against women that is prevalent in many places; an end to the evil of female infanticide. Educating our girls is a must; it is women who make families and influence generation next. We cannot be unfair to them.
Access to healthcare
I’ve read and seen enough about the lack of decent medical facilities across the country. We, as a people, need to make sure that anyone and everyone who needs a doctor is able to reach one and be helped. And be helped properly.
The end of terror
I am from Mumbai, where too many have fallen prey to terror attacks. People have suffered all over India, too many have lost near and dear ones. Somehow, somewhere, this needs to stop. Maybe that can only happen if we have a common dream, one of a better tomorrow.
A more tolerant India
Finally, when I look at my team-mates, people from different religions and socio-economic backgrounds who still bond like brothers, I wonder why that cannot be replicated across India. My final prayer, therefore, is for a tolerant India, where religious and other differences do not matter.
I also think that's where people like me have a role to play by setting an example, because little things — gestures, moves, speech — it all matters.
For instance, I've often been asked about what I felt about personal milestones, like breaking the world record for maximum hundreds, I always say it feels good but personally, I feel that if my doing this can inspire someone else, some kid watching me, to dream about going one step better, one step further, then that's what makes it worth the while.
As a child, growing up, it's hugely important to have heroes, to have someone to idolise. I had my heroes while growing up, and I have them now.
Idols and idealism
If I think that, in any way, I have been able to inspire generation next into imagining; into believing, hoping and dreaming that a future unknown might be possible, then that would be my contribution. If you're lucky enough to be blessed, it's important to distribute those blessings too.
I would like to imagine an India where Generation X is consistently raising the bar, where they believe that the impossible does not exist. My dream for India is the creation of a sporting system where no child believes that he or she has been hard done by.
Between around 1975, the time of the first World Cup, and now, Indian sport has taken huge steps; it has moved from the metropolises into the small towns, there has been a huge social change that is both heartening and welcome. Yet, there is still work to be done, more remote places to be brought into the fold, not in a haphazard manner though, but in an organised fashion.
It's not just about handing someone a racquet or a cricket bat and a rubber ball but also about teaching them the intricacies of sport, of inculcating in them a sense of achievement and inspiring in them the belief and the will to succeed.
There have to be proper facilities, accessibility to sport for people with hitherto no access… in the years ahead, if we can manage that, we will definitely move forward.
I also want to imagine an India as a land of equal sporting opportunity and choice, one where people honestly believe that sport can give them a better shot at life. No one should have the option of saying that he didn't get a chance, he or she should only be able to say that 'look, I got a chance, but I wasn't quite good enough to make it'.
If we can get sport to that level, a place where there are no excuses, tomorrow would be a far better place to be.
(The author, Sachin Tendulkar, is history’s most prolific batsman and a living legend)